I’m a alcoholic who lives in Seattle, surrounded by the beautiful forested mountains that heal me on long hikes — which are currently going up in flames as never before.
What’s the big deal? The graph to the right shows the nationwide trend of bigger, more numerous forest fires (in spite of more volunteers and better firefighting equipment). This year, 2017, scores of wildfires consuming record acreage under “extreme” conditions of prolonged drought and heat have caused all northwestern states to declare emergencies, as has British Columbia.
These super-fires incinerating our waning wildlife habitats are not part of the natural cycle: rather, they’re symptoms of climate change. For many people, the loss may seem nothing major. But for me, it’s personal. These forests are my church. Wild creatures are my saints.
So when it “snowed” ash in Seattle this past Tuesday, our sickly yellow skies blanketing everything from Seattle to Portland with flakes of what had recently been verdant, living trees, I felt as though the bodies of dead loved ones were raining down as an omen: if we continue on as we’re going, our planet will die.
Witnessing this phenomenon, unprecedented in my 57 years of living here, has ravaged my serenity. Also on my mind are the two record-breaking hurricanes striking from the south, which the US president, who does not “believe in” climate change, has eloquently described as follows: “It looks like it could be something that will be not good. Believe me, not good.” More imminently, this incompetent megalomaniac controls the US nuclear arsenal while a godfather-like thug controls Russia’s — and a madman in North Korea has just announced that he, too, has a nuclear bomb.
What do you do?! How do you live?! I’ll tell you what not to do: what I’ve been doing. I’ve been actively willing the world to change. Haven’t you felt all the mental and emotional effort I’ve been pouring out, day after day, compelling everyone to see what I see and think what I think~? Hasn’t Trump’s brain been affected by my constant mental criticism?
Nope. Not a bit. The only person impacted by my anguish… is me. I’ve been carrying the world’s woes in my tightened throat, upset stomach, and continuous low-grade headache. Today I, like so many Al-Anons, am sickening myself with fear and worry much as I once nearly killed myself with drugs and alcohol — believing again and again that I’ll somehow move closer to what I want using something I know does not work.
I fall again and again for the notion that I can control the world around me. I forget I’m powerless over people, places, and things. But my inner addict never forgets the care-banishing, fukitol power of a drink or a drug. “There’s an easy way,” it lobbies from the back of my mind, “to quit giving a shit about anything or anyone.”
What else can I do? You guys have taught me, I always have access to three super-powers: a) meditation & prayer, b) program, and c) action. I know, I know — they don’t sound real impressive, but they’re transformative, redirecting my path from a destructive to a constructive direction.
a) Meditation and prayer are, strangely enough, the antithesis of worry. Sitting with eyes closed, I simply quiet my mind as I get to know the inner space of my consciousness. It’s a lot like entering a dark room and waiting until your eyes adjust. I can note how urgently or lackadaisically my thoughts enter; I can note my reactions to them, de-escalating from “Holy shit! I just remembered this ultra-important thing!!” to “Yup… that’s us thinking again…”
At this point, I can begin to sense the inherent foolishness of my normal state of consciousness. I don’t blame myself for being foolish — I am, after all, just a person with squishy stuff in their skull. I can see that I’m comically focused on my own world of thoughts, my own little “plans and designs.” Why? Because I’m scared shitless! I note the many ways I imagine I’m protecting what I love — my worries. For a few moments, I drop them all. I open to god instead and say, “This world is yours, not mine. But I’m scared shitless. Help me.”
NOW comes the point at which I can pray unselfishly, asking god to guide me to be useful beyond myself, and even to guide humanity to live on this planet less destructively. Prayer, like mass meditation, does have an effect.
b) Program means that I go to extra meetings, talk with my sponsor or sponsees, and seek out ways to be useful to others. (Going to my homegroup tonight, I get to do all three!) I can also write this blog to help you or maybe remind you to help others.
For instance, I was recently perusing this excellent book on not drinking which I’d forgotten I owned. It’s kick-ass for folks in early sobriety. I’m just gonna pass along the TOC here so you can recommend to newcomers either exploring one of these tactics (click to expand) or buying the whole damn book.
c) Action requires that when I say the Serenity Prayer, I be ready to actually change the things I can. I realized yesterday that, while my work used to require driving all over town to meet clients, now so many of them work at Amazon that on certain days I just drive downtown and back. Guess what. I live on a bus line. Rather than heroically taking out a huge loan to buy an electric car, I can simply get my lazy, germaphobic ass on the bus on those days to reduce my goddam carbon footprint. (I promise to post a photo of me on the fucking bus below.)
I must do what I can… or I’m a hypocrite.
And yes, I’ve already called my congresswomen to express my views, but I can also plant trees, attend protests, and campaign next time around for wiser a president.
When I took Step 3 all those years ago, I made a decision to live a good life, to seek good/god in all things, and to act on its guidance. Today that means I don’t get to wallow in worry and panic any more than I do in self-pity and resentment.
There’s always a better way. Seek and we’ll find it.
PS: As promised, a few pictures of me riding the bus to work, which I now do 3 x per week, rain or shine. A tank of gas lasts me more than twice what it used to.